What I read: February

So, as you may know, one of my goals for 2014 is to read 70 books. I know, I know. Its a lot. I do love to read, but there are times that I know I’ve read a book and can’t recall all the details. So, I’m going to borrow an idea from Jenn of Eating Bender and do a monthly summary of what I’ve read and how I felt post-book.


Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.45.32 PMThe Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

From Amazon: THERE: In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila has always lived like royalty. Her father is a dictator of sorts, though she knows him as King—just as his father was, and just as her little brother Bastien will be one day. Then everything changes: Laila’s father is killed in a coup.

HERE: As war surges, Laila flees to a life of exile in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Overnight she becomes a nobody. Even as she adjusts to a new school and new friends, she is haunted by the past. Was her father really a dictator like the American newspapers say? What was the cost of her family’s privilege?

Far from feeling guilty, her mother is determined to regain their position of power. So she’s engineering a power play—conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to gain a foothold to the throne. Laila can’t bear to stand still as yet another international crisis takes shape around her. But how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

From Elizabeth: I read this in the middle of trudging through Goldfinch because I needed a break. It was a speedy read; I want to say I finished it on a Saturday afternoon. I loved the format — and its ambiguity — and the story could have been “ripped from the headlines.” The author worked in international relations and the knowledge of the field definitely shows in the book. I didn’t really connect with the auxillary characters, and there was a distance between the reader and the main characters. I think that was intentional, though. I didn’t see the twist at the end coming, and the ending was the perfect way to conclude the story.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.36.10 PMThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

From Amazon“The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind….Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.”–Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

THE GOLDFINCH is a mesmerizing, tell-all-your-friends triumph, hailed by Stephen King as “a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.” (New York Times Book Review)

From Elizabeth: To be honest, I really didn’t like this book. I found it to be incredibly well-written, and the story was definitely compelling — at the end I didn’t want to put it down. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Theo the way that one wants to care about a first person protagonist in an almost 800 page book. I thought he was selfish, at times cruel, and definitely misguided. There were some characters that I liked (well, two – Hobie and Andy, if you’re curious), but by and large, I didn’t connect with anyone. At the end, I was just relieved it was over.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.35.39 PMEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

From Amazon:  An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: While Eleanor & Park is technically classified as YA lit and has a cutesy cover, don’t let the stigma of “books for teens” fool or deter you. It is written about teens, sure, but the themes are so universal that anyone who survived high school will relate to the lives of the two protagonists. Eleanor is the new girl in town and her wild red hair and patchwork outfits are not helping her blend in. She ends up sitting next to Park on the bus, whose tendencies towards comic books don’t jibe with the rest of his family’s love of sports. They sit in awkward silence every day until Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder; he begins to slide them closer to her side of the seat and thus begins their love story. Their relationship grows gradually–making each other mixed tapes (it is 1986 after all) and discussing X-Men characters–until they both find themselves looking forward to the bus ride more than any other part of the day. Things aren’t easy: Eleanor is bullied at school and then goes home to a threatening family situation; Park’s parents do not approve of Eleanor’s awkward ways. Ultimately, though, this is a book about two people who just really, really like each other and who believe that they can overcome any obstacle standing in the way of their happiness. It’s a gem of a book.

From Elizabeth: This is the book I read immediately following Goldfinch (like the next day, immediately), and it was the perfect palate cleanser. I purchased this book in October, but for some reason, I didn’t read it until February. Big mistake. Huge. (name that movie). I loved it. I loved how awkward Eleanor and Park were with their families, with their friends, and with each other. I loved the ending. I loved the beginning, and the middle, too – don’t get me wrong. Wholeheartedly recommend. To be completely honest, I did enjoy Attachments more but only because I connected with the characters more, age- and personality-wise. Either one is a wonderful choice, though; I have Fangirl next on my list for March, and I’ve already preordered book #4 that comes out in July.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.37.23 PMThe Astronauts Wives Club by Lily Koppel

From AmazonAs America’s Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Lifemagazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; JFK made it clear that platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was his favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived with a secret that needed to stay hidden from NASA. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, providing one another with support and friendship, coffee and cocktails.

As their celebrity rose–and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives–they continued to rally together, and forming bonds that would withstand the test of time, and they have stayed friends for over half a century. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

From Elizabeth: This is what one of my professors in college would call a micro-history, focusing on a small group of people to tell bigger truths about an era. I didn’t know much about the space program, even though Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies, and I loved getting to read about it from the ladies point of view. It was a quick easy read, but it was a little confusing with all of the “characters.” I wish that she had focused on a smaller group, simply so that she could have gone deeper into stories.

The Passion of the Purple PlumeriaScreen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.38.30 PM by Lauren Willig

From AmazonLauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels have been hailed as “sheer fun”* and “charming.”** Now she takes readers on an adventure filled with hidden treasure and a devilishly handsome English colonel….

Colonel William Reid has returned home from India to retire near his children, who are safely stowed at an academy in Bath. Upon his return to the Isles, however, he finds that one of his daughters has vanished, along with one of her classmates.

Because she served as second-in-command to the Pink Carnation, one of England’s most intrepid spies, it would be impossible for Gwendolyn Meadows to give up the intrigue of Paris for a quiet life in the English countryside—especially when she’s just overheard news of an alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan. But, when the Pink Carnation’s little sister goes missing from her English boarding school, Gwen reluctantly returns home to investigate the girl’s disappearance.

Thrown together by circumstance, Gwen and William must cooperate to track down the young ladies before others with nefarious intent get their hands on them. But Gwen’s partnership with quick-tongued, roguish William may prove to be even more of an adventure for her than finding the lost girls….

From Elizabeth: True story, I’ve read all of Lauren Willig’s books; my mother gave me the first one (Secret History of the Pink Carnation) for Christmas one year, knowing that it was about a British spy in Napoleonic France. It was perfect — at the time, I was a British History/French art major, with a concentration on “modern” (i.e., post 1785) times. I don’t think she realized how much of a “bodice ripper” the book was — to be fair, the romance is tame and in keeping with the mores of the times — but I was hooked. They are easy to read, I love the characters, and I love the way that she switches between modern and early 19th century England. I know this one came out a while ago, but I had put off reading it because the protagonist – Miss Gwen – wasn’t by favorite character. In case you are wondering, my fave is Miles, who is the protagonist in The Masque of the Black Tulip. To be fair, I think she was portrayed very differently in this book than she was in the others, but obviously, that’s an author’s prerogative. I thought the story between Miss Gwen and Col. Reid was sweet, but again, I didn’t really love it the way I’ve loved some of the others. I did love that we connected to some other characters from her other books, but it seemed a little out of place in the story. I think I read on her website that there will be two more Carnation novels, and obviously I’ll read them, but I think she’s running out of new stories to tell. Not a criticism — I’m sure when she started this, she didn’t expect to have 12 books — just an observation.

And some books I didn’t talk about at the end of January (yay #snowjam2014)

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.27.28 PM

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch

From Amazon: The Last Enchantments is a powerfully moving and lyrically written novel. A young American embarks on a year at Oxford and has an impassioned affair that will change his life forever

After graduating from Yale, William Baker, scion of an old line patrician family, goes to work in presidential politics.  But when the campaign into which he’s poured his heart ends in disappointment, he decides to leave New York behind, along with the devoted, ambitious, and well-connected woman he’s been in love with for the last four years.

Will expects nothing more than a year off before resuming the comfortable life he’s always known, but he’s soon caught up in a whirlwind of unexpected friendships and romantic entanglements that threaten his safe plans. As he explores the heady social world of Oxford,  he becomes fast friends with Tom, his snobbish but affable flat mate;  Anil, an Indian economist with a deep love for gangster rap; Anneliese, a German historian obsessed with photography; and Timmo, whose chief ambition is to become a reality television star. What he’s least prepared for is Sophie, a witty, beautiful and enigmatic woman who makes him question everything he knows about himself.

For readers who made a classic of Richard Yates’s A Good School, Charles Finch’s The Last Enchantments is a sweeping novel about love and loss that redefines what it means to grow up as an American in the twenty-first century.

From Elizabeth: I have read all of Charles Finch’s Charles Lenox mysteries, and I consider it one of my favorite series. It should come as no surprise then that I preordered his first “modern” work as soon as I saw it announced on Goodreads. I’ll first say that this was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Lenox mysteries, which are set in Victorian England, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment! I spent a wonderful summer in college studying in Oxford, and it was so fun to go back into that world. I must admit, I’m a little jealous of Will in some ways because there is nothing that I would love more than to go back for post-grad work at Oxford; I just haven’t found a way to make this economically feasible. Now to the book – I really enjoyed it. I think that Charles Finch really captured a ton of how our generation feels about life, and I can honestly say I’ve had most of the thoughts that Will has had. He’s articulated the ambiguity that I often feel about life choices wonderfully, and it is because of this that I connected with all of the characters. Will isn’t perfect, far from it, but he feels like someone that I could know. Obviously, I hope that Finch continutes with the Lenox mysteries, but I also am very interested to see any other contemporary works he writes. Both will be on my pre-order list, to be sure.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.28.16 PMAttachments by Rainbow Rowell

From Amazon: “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . ” 

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?

From Elizabeth: This was the first of Rainbow Rowell’s books that I read (spoiler alert: I’ve now finished all three), and it was a perfect introduction to someone who is becoming one of my favorite authors. I loved the epistolary style, and the glimpses into both Lincoln and Beth’s heads. I found myself falling for Lincoln as he fell for Beth, and I literally cheered at the resolution at the book’s end! What I love about all of Rowell’s works is how she takes a story that could be a cliche – a love story – and completely turns it on his head. The characters have such depth and are perfectly imperfect. So easy to connect with them, which makes each work such a treat. Wholeheartely recommend.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.28.47 PMVisitation Street by Ivy Pachoda

From Amazon:  A crowd gathers on the corner of Visitation Street after the disappearance of two local girls–one of whom has washed up on shore, barely alive–and our narrator teases: “The story develops slowly.” The same can be said of Ivy Pochoda’s atmospheric debut, which is as much an ode to the ragged neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn as it is a slow-burning mystery. At times I felt I was reading of some foreign or forgotten city, a moody and crumbling place in the shadow of Manhattan. While the damaged-goods characters are quite memorable–a woman spends her days “speaking” to her dead husband; a music teacher drinks to oblivion, haunted by his dead mother; an immigrant shop owner dreams of a better Red Hook–the star here is “the Hook.” One character describes it as “a neighborhood of ghosts,” where trash rolls like tumbleweed–hazy, smelly, noisy, blue collar, crime-ridden, yet full of heart and hope. Says one character, who wants to flee Red Hook in the boat his murdered father left him: “It’s not such a bad place … if you look under the surface.” The same can be said of Visitation Street, a deceptively literary tale that brings to mind its benefactor, Denis Lehane, who published the book under his new imprint.

From Elizabeth: This is another one of those books that wasn’t a favorite. I thought the characters were drawn very well, and I connected to them, but it seemed like after the original event that kicked off the novel, nothing really happened. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Red Hook, but the author really loves it in a way that was almost distracting from the story at hand. I liked how some of the loose ends tied up at the end, though I  figured out several of the major “reveals” before they happened. All in all, it was okay, which is about as harsh as I ever get about a book.

 

Some of these I found because I had read previous works, some were Kindle Daily Deals, and others were through Goodreads. Anyone else read something fab recently?

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